Betty Wright and Peggy Gracey fiddled with the Mylar balloon’s string, as they secured it to the little pine wagon filled with small colorful quilts individually, neatly packaged.
“We have 15 kids here today,” said Wright, readying to roll the flag and pinwheel-adorned quilt-carrier, and its oversized first-anniversary balloon, into the pediatric unit of the Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
Wright is the president of Northeast Georgia Quilts for Kids, a chapter of the international organization whose members sew comfort quilts for children. March 29 was the Hall County-area chapter’s first anniversary.
Wright, the former executive secretary of the Rotary Club of Gainesville, initially came across the idea to provide comfort quilts for children after viewing a video posted by the founding organization.
“There was an email that I got one morning from one of those quilting websites,” she said, “and I was very touched. My grandson is 19; I didn’t have anyone to quilt for.”
Gracey and Wright, whose husbands are actively involved in Rotary together, became friends and although Gracey doesn’t quilt, she has created fleece blankets, helps to build fabric-filled quilting kits and was on the road, this day, delivering and sharing in the one-year milestone and how far the group has come.
From Wright’s first organized meeting, made up of 11 people who were mostly friends, the quilting group has grown to include more than 150 volunteers who attend workshops, sew at home or are a member of a local guild.
With regularity, an Ellijay man sends his finely-detailed quilts to Wright. “It’s a man she’s never even met,” said Gracey.
The Northeast Georgia chapter of Quilts for Kids delivered its 231st quilt to the pediatric unit on Good Friday. “We went to the shelter this morning,” said Gracey. “And we’ll hit Family Promise this afternoon.”
In total, Quilts for Kids has sewn 291 quilts, fleece blankets and pillowcases for Northeast Georgia Medical Center, Gateway Domestic Shelter, Georgia Highlands Medical Services in Forsyth County and Family Promise of Hall County.
“That’s how many little lives we touched by making comfort quilts in our first year,” said Wright. “I left (Rotary) in December so I could do this full-time.”
For Wright’s bi-monthly hospital visits, explained Gracey, “She calls ahead and gets the sex and the age (of the children),” and they gather comfort quilts to match then travel the length of the pediatric unit, gently tapping on doors.
“That’s his favorite character,” said the mom of Lucas, a 4-year-old boy who threw punches at the balloon, alternately grabbing for the pinwheel as Wright unpacked the little car-covered quilt. He kept becoming wound up in the I.V. tethering him to the fluids alongside his bed. “He wants to be a race car driver when he grows up,” mom said.
A few rooms down, 3-year-old Miley was propped against the pillows as Wright and Gracey maneuvered the little wagon into the chilly room.
The liquid-brown eyes and dark braids, against her pale skin, were overtaken by the large hospital bed. Speaking very little English, the father nodded tiredly as his daughter pointed to the pink and purple quilt. Wright unfolded and covered the tiny girl. She smiled slightly and ran her small fingers along its edge.
Gracey tried to answer what keeps her friend Wright so driven to grow the gift quilt program that now keeps her busy sewing and managing its paperwork six to seven days a week. Wright admitted that she’s had to slow down a bit due to some overuse injuries that have come to plague her shoulder and elbow. But, there will always be more children.
“Peggy wants to do things for people,” she said. “She just has to.”